Award winning books in the Youth Services field have plots with contemporary themes. A Newberry Award honoree, "Because of Winn Dixie" is a favorite novel for Florida educators and librarians. Given the North Florida connection to Marjorie Rawlings, author Kate DiCamillo writes about this mutt's adventures in Northern Florida.
Opal (Annasophia Robb) is the daughter of a Baptist Preacher (Jeff Daniels). Recently separated from his wife under mysterious circumstances, the Preacher and Opal relocate to a trailer park in Naomi, Florida. The Preacher's family encounter a cranky landlord and trailer park bullies. Life gets complicated when a canine named Winn Dixie adopts the Preacher's small family.
While touring the neighborhood, Opal and Winn Dixie encounter the shy people of Naomi town. Winn Dixie makes a sleeping librarian (Eva Marie Saint) scream. Opal earns a part time job with a musically shy pet store worker (singer Dave Matthews) and makes friends with a vision impaired lady (Cicely Tyson), who may be a witch.
"Because of Winn Dixie" shows how people become friendly with one other because of the behavior their pets. Unlike the humans who live a life of quiet desperation, when this dog is lonely, it howls, prompting people to come and check on him. Winn Dixie can disrupt the Preacher's sermon. The dog non verbally teaches a story of duty and forgiveness. One key scene, in the pet store, reveals that Dave Matthew's music has the charms to soothe the savage beasties. The movie shines in these sequences.
The movie becomes saccharin for the climax. The thunderstorm of a climax strikes false notes with coincidences piled upon coincidences. Annasophia Robb gives a Haley Mills Pollyanna performance, but the young actress does not have the transitional acting skills to break a heart. The veteran actors, Jeff Daniels, Cicely Tyson, and Eva Marie Saint seemed to be hired because of audience identification in previous performances. Comic actor Harland Williams is a stand out for all the wrong reasons. Portraying a police officer with the DNA of Don Knotts, Williams' performance is too broad and unlikeable for such a small role.
My adult eyes may reveal the cynicism of being a 42 year old. "Because of Winn Dixie" reminded me of "My Dog Skip" which was a biographic memory piece from writer Willie Morris. The audience I saw this movie with loved the film. Young people danced during the closing credits and accepted the messages of hope, faith and charity. As Winn Dixie dog has shown, sometimes it is better to sniff around until you find what you are looking for.